It’s Nissan vs. Chevy in the affordable EV segment
Chevy Bolt sales got off to a slow start in December with late and limited availability, but Chevy got 579 Bolts out the door (compared with 1,899 LEAFs). Once inventory started to ramp up a bit the tables turned with Chevrolet delivering 1,162 Bolts in January vs. 772 LEAFs for Nissan. So what does it all mean?
First, let’s put some perspective on this. January was the first full month of availability for the all-new Bolt. Nissan’s first full month of sales for the LEAF, January of 2011, saw LEAF sales of 87 units. It took until April of that year for Nissan to break the 500 mark, which they did with sales of 573.
Nissan achieved their highest single month sales total of 3,186 in August of 2014, which was also the best year thus far for Nissan with 30,200 vehicles sold. Public awareness of electric cars had been ramping up over the previous three years with Tesla first selling its first Model S in 2012 and many other automakers joining the plug-in vehicle fray. Now that pretty much anyone of driving age has heard of electric cars, it is not surprising that the Bolt would have a significantly better launch than Nissan experienced all those years ago.
That the Chevy Bolt goes twice as far also might have something to do with it. The EPA range of the LEAF is 107 miles – the Bolt 238, although the Bolt starts about $7,000 more. Also, the LEAF looks virtually identical to what it did in December of 2010 and the Bolt is the shiny new toy, although I don’t know of anyone that would call either particularly attractive. Tesla seems to own the sexy electric car market for the moment, but that exclusivity comes at the equivalent of Apple technology product prices. Yes, they say that the Model 3 is coming late this year at $35,000 but I’ll believe it when I see it. Tesla has yet to deliver on time.
So with the launch of the Chevy Bolt, the US driving public finally has an affordable, medium distance electric car that many will find meets their needs. This 60 Kwh battery class of vehicle, available in the $30,000 price range, is getting the EV marketplace near the tipping point of widespread acceptance.
EV drivers will find it easier to find a fast charge station in the coming years as Nissan and BMW continue to partner with EVgo to bring additional fast charging capability to both CHAdoMO and SAE Combo connector (CCS) equipped electric cars. The above infographic shows the network that existed in December 2015 (dark blue icons) with the expansion that has taken place since then (light blue icons). 50 additional charge stations are planned for 2017.
This infographic also represents another characteristic of EV drivers to date – they are clustered primarily along the West and East Coasts, with sporadic EV ownership throughout the rest of the country. If the fast charge network presented above reaches 90 percent of LEAF and i3 drivers, it is not a great leap to say that there are few EV owners spread throughout the middle of America. With the limited range of most current generation EVs, this is not unexpected. With Chevrolet’s launch of the 238-mile Bolt, we may see this demographic start to change. Once you can go 200 miles without having to stop to charge, it starts to open up whole new markets that did not exist prior.
The 2017 BMW i3 now offers a 33 kWh battery that extends its range to 114 miles. All 2017 Nissan LEAFs now come with a 30 kWh battery that will get you 107 miles down the road. Both of these pale next to the Bolt – at least in the driving range department. Nissan has announced the 2018 LEAF will have a 60 kWh battery and provide a 200-mile plus range and it will be available late 2017. Many Tesla Model S drivers have been enjoying road trips in their 200- to 300-mile range sedans for years. But Teslas are not within the price range of many Americans. As more affordable high mileage EVs hit the road, look for a much more rapidly expanding fast charge network to develop – with or without the auto manufacturers help.
If you’ve followed Living LEAF for any length of time, you know that I don’t update frequently. There are many media sites that will give you all of the day-to-day breaking news in the EV segment. Living LEAF is not one of those sites. I established Living LEAF in 2010 as a site to help others learn about this still new and rapidly changing segment of the auto industry. From looking at how visitors view this site, and which pages they read, the vast majority of my readership comes from people doing research about buying a LEAF or other electric car, or researching some aspect of its ownership experience once they have one. My approach is one of analysis and opinion rather than strictly news. I have also written a primer on electric cars that is in the process of being updated. Because of this irregular update cycle I have been asked to provide an email subscription service that will allow you to be notified when I post a new article. I am pleased to announce that I now have that capability. In the right-hand sidebar is a widget titled, appropriately enough, “Subscribe for email notification of new posts!” Pop in your name, email address, hit the submit button, and you’re good to go. I’ll probably have to put some privacy page up soon, but you can be sure that I won’t sell your data, or use it for anything other than this intended purpose.
Carlos Ghosn at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) finally announced that the new Nissan LEAF will be coming soon. In automotive parlance that means sometime this year, which is what I’ve been saying all along, as a 2018 model. Look for it late summer at the earliest, more likely this fall. One thing that I didn’t anticipate is the inclusion of ProPILOT autonomous technology. This self-driving technology was introduced in Japan last year on the Serena minivan and is designed to provide single lane driving assistance. In other words, when you’re commuting on the freeway, it will keep you in your lane, speed up and slow down as appropriate, stop if the vehicle in front of you stops, take off when that vehicle resumes, and that’s about it. It won’t change lanes for you, nor will it drive you around town while you read your emails and texts on your phone. We’ll have to wait until 2020 or beyond for that level of autonomy. Here’s a video of this ProPILOT system.
Nissan has a plan to incorporate more self-driving technology into the cars we drive for the next several years, progressing from single lane management to total vehicle control. Another new technology that was revealed at the CES was Seamless Autonomous Mobility, which Nissan also refers to as SAM.
As the world transitions to vehicles that can drive themselves, there are always those irregular circumstances that can not only trip up self-driving cars, but cars with real humans behind the wheel. A sinkhole opening up with traffic being re-routed would be one such example. Nissan’s response to this is to have humans interact with the vehicle as these situations arise. The vehicle will send data to be viewed by SAM controllers who will then return instructions to the vehicle after reviewing the data. While this may seem to be a cumbersome way to manage a vehicle, Nissan presents their view in the following video.
Prior to Ghosn’s keynote speech Takeo Asami, Nissan’s Senior V.P. of Research and Development stated that the new LEAF would have a range of more than 200 miles. This is the news that all current LEAF owners have been waiting to hear, but Nissan had been reluctant to confirm until now. Having worked in the automotive industry for over 25 years, I can attest to the fact that every manufacturer is all about selling cars now – today. As soon as Nissan says that the next LEAF will go 200 miles or more, there are those that might be considering a LEAF that will say “I’ll just wait until that one comes out.” Not what Nissan – or any carmaker – wants to hear. But with the recently released 238 mile Chevy Bolt and the eventual launch of the Tesla Model 3, Nissan apparently felt that it was time to confirm this eventuality. Really, it’s not been a closely held secret for anyone that’s been paying attention, but there was no official confirmation – until now. Look for 30 kWh 2017 LEAF sales to start slowing as more Bolts become available, and the launch date of the next generation LEAF nears. What that next LEAF will look like is open to speculation, so let me provide you with mine.
I have already presented several articles about Nissan’s current styling themes. A few years back Nissan made a move to globalize their design language with some brand characteristics so that anyone, anywhere in the world could see a Nissan and recognize it as such. These include features such as boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights (first implemented on the 370Z seen below), floating roof as seen now on the Maxima and Murano, and the V-Motion front end as represented on all recently designed Nissans. Here are some examples of those themes.
Now that we’ve taken a look at what some of Nissan’s current design themes look like in production vehicles, how might they play out in the next gen LEAF? I’ve covered many of Nissan’s recent global concepts in the past, but here I put them in one place. These images will give you a general idea of the direction that the next LEAF might go. First up is the Nissan SWAY.
Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 the SWAY integrates much of Nissan’s design language in a subcompact hatch. Of all of the concepts presented here, in my view this might be the closest to representing the next LEAF. Others worth noting though include the IDS concept.
The IDS is a much more futuristic looking EV with some very aggressive aero features, such as the sharply contoured sides of the front bumper cover. Something worth noting though, is that BMW i3 and Toyota Prius have already incorporated somewhat less aggressive variations of this theme with the Prius looking remarkably similar.
Still other vehicles could flavor the next electric Nissan hatch as well. Here’s a look at the Kicks, which was a concept that made it into production for the Brazilian market, and will expand to others as well. This is less likely to influence the LEAF I feel as it has stronger crossover looks.
So there is a look at what Nissan has to say about the next gen LEAF due to come out later this year, and my speculation as to what that LEAF might look like. Meantime, Chevy will be the sole provider of an affordable 200 mile plus electric car, and that fact likely has many Nissan executives gnashing their teeth at night as every Bolt sold is one less LEAF out the door. Which design idea represented above would you like to see in the next Nissan LEAF?
According to Automotive News, at least one California Chevy dealer expects to see his first Chevrolet Bolt in January of next year. All indications though are that there will not be much initial inventory and production will ramp up slowly. That is the same approach that Nissan took when the LEAF was first available. Launched in December 2010, Nissan slowly released vehicles to their dealer network and manufacturing new product happened at a glacial pace as they closely monitored production. Look for a similar rollout of the Bolt.
According to Alan Batey, President, GM North America, “We plan to go to all 50 states,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.” Nissan originally made the LEAF available in five states – Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. The LEAF was not available nationwide until March, 2012.
Nissan has yet to release any information about when their longer range LEAF might be available, but the sale of the first 238 mile Chevy Bolt, whenever it happens, will turn up the heat another notch.
Doubles Nissan’s claim of reaching 25 initial markets
July of 2014 saw Nissan introduce their No Charge to Charge program in ten markets, with a commitment to add fifteen more markets over the next twelve months. Not only have they met that initial commitment, but by expanding the program to double that number, nearly 90 percent of LEAF owners in the US live within one of these 50 markets. The program provides free charging for two years with the purchase or lease of a new Nissan LEAF.
There are differences between Nissan’s program and the Tesla Supercharger network. The Nissan program offers free charging for two years and is designed to assist in local or distance driving. The Tesla Supercharger network is for as long as you own your car and is designed to be used as a long distance charging protocol when traveling away from your local market. Tesla expects their owners to charge their cars at home when in their home market and angered many owners just over a year ago when they sent out a mass email asking owners not to use the Supercharger network as a local charging station.
No matter which EV you own, you can be sure that the cost to fuel your car will be less than any gasoline powered vehicle, even without free charging offered by the manufacturer.